Rudd the conquerer?

April 19, 2008

Australia's military "would contain a careful mix of capabilities that could in extremis rip an arm off any major Asian power that sought to attack Australia", said Professor Ross Babbage of the Kokoda Foundation in a private lecture to Australian Defence Force officials according to a March 25 AAP report.

In his lecture, Babbage argued for a massive increase in Australia's defense force including 400 attack aircraft, 30 submarines and an intercontinental ballistic missile defence system. The Australian government looks likely to accept many of his proposals.

Babbage's lecture came in the context of the Rudd Labor government announcing a new "white paper" on Australia's defence, to be released in September. Babbage is one of many academics contributing to discussions among Australia's military officials, and will be on the ministerial body that oversees the final draft of the white paper.

To justify massively increasing military spending, Babbage claimed there were escalating threats from China, India and Indonesia. The SMH reported that Babbage had argued that "Australia would need to learn to walk amongst the giants — Indonesia, China and India — all with immensely larger populations, economies and military forces".

On March 20, the Australian's Greg Sheridan argued that the Rudd government "will offer a certain amount of flim-flam and mushy talk to satisfy its supporters on the Left. But, ultimately, on national security it will make the right, hard-headed decisions."

The ALP's 2007 "defence" policy calls for increased military spending. Under former prime minister John Howard, military spending averaged around 2% of GDP a year, with the current financial year's spending coming to $22 billion. Labor's policy calls for increasing the annual spending to 3% per year, with defence the only portfolio free from Rudd's "razor gang", which is tasked with slashing budgets in health, education and community services.

Rudd has committed to the continuing occupation of Afghanistan as part of the "war on terror". The 1000 Australian military personnel currently in Afghanistan are to stay there for the "long haul" Rudd was quoted as saying in the April 4 Melbourne Age.

Despite Rudd's pre-election promise to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq, only 550 of the 1540 Australian troops will leave Iraq in June and there will be continuing strategic support of the US-led occupation with an Australian patrol boat and several surveillance aircraft operating in the region.

So the Rudd Labor government will both have a more aggressive military spending policy than Howard, and fundamentally continue the policies of the Howard government in regards to the US-Australia military alliance. The talk of increasing threats from Third World Asian nations has little basis in fact — Australia has not suffered any genuine terrorist threat since the beginning of the "war on terror" — not that any massive expansion of military spending would actually avert or diminish the chances of a terrorist attack.

The Rudd government's commitment to military spending and the public comments by the members of the Labor government indicate that there is not a fundamental rupture with the foreign policy of the Howard government. The twin pillars of Australia's imperialist foreign policy — the alliance with the US and Canberra's bullying and predatory role in the Pacific (for example East Timor and the Solomon Islands) — will remain intact.

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